A musical journey to the land of fire – Azerbaijan

The music of Azerbaijan

Baku at nightWhen you hear the word ‘Azerbaijan’ you imagine a remote country, small villages and woman with head covers. But when we first arrived to Baku, all our images shattered. At 8 o’clock in the morning we landed at the bay city on the Caspian sea. Around us Mcdonald’s, sky scrappers and luxury cars, more than you would see in the fifth avenue in New York. This is Baku, the business capital of the Caucasus. Baku attracts people from all over the world to trade oil. And we are here for Azerbaijani music instruments, for Azeri music. We found ourselves standing wondering where in all this, is the authentic music? Is there really something left of the magnificent heritage of Azerbaijan?

So we started sniffing around. Who know a guy that knows a guy that build instruments. People on the streets just wouldn’t know. On the 1 MANAT paper (0.5$ equivalent) are Tar and Kamancheh drawn. But the sad truth is that they are merely on the paper.

How ever, hope wasn’t lost and we’ve made up our way the Azerbaijan’s national musical university. Entering there is as difficult as entering to the white house. As a beginning, you have to have an invitation from the director of from a close teacher.

It is a very impressive building, with 7 floors. Each floor was named after a different Maqam (scale) of the 7 traditional Mugham scales. Being inside, from all over young boys and girls were playing Tars, Kamanchas. We felt in heaven! The standard is very high, and the admissions are strict. Only the best are accepted here, and the musicians are not less than amazing. From a so called ‘primitive’ instruments, symphonies of Bach and Beethoven were played at astonishing virtuosity.

Old man hand crafting a caucasian tar

Tar maker in azerbaijan (baku)When we were looking for an address we’ve received from a guy, we ended up in the abandoned side of the city, in a big restaurant. Under it, a long corridor led to a small room. The man in the picture has been building Azeri tars already 35 years. He explained about the building proccedure and demonstrated every instrument. It is amazing how in such a small room, with so basic tools you can produce such magnificent instruments.

The Azerbaijani tar (‘caucasian tar’) is  different from his Persian cousin by having a narrower body, and with the addition of sympathetic strings. The sound can be described as soft and deep but with a surprising stiffness that distinguishes it so much. People dedicate their entire life to learn the secrets of the Tar, and its plucking technique differs from any other plucked instrument in the world.

Going the the kid’s school

At the children’s music school we found an especially kind Tar player that told us that his uncle is building tars. This was enough to light the fire in our eyes and directly agreed to go and meet him. Taking a subway, and then a tram, and the a bus, we’ve arrived to a building that was literally falling apart. The man who lives there is 81 years old builds tar and also… teaches Geography! We sat down to hear the instruments, and the sound was magical like we never heard before. The maker is sitting on the right.


An half an hour later, another cousin has arrived and joined with the kamancheh. They’ve performed the great Azeri song: Samai Shams:

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  1. Pingback: Azerbaijani Kamancha - Music recommendation | Ethnic Musical

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